On 23 July, 2021, the 11,000 best athletes in the world will march into Tokyo’s National Stadium. They will wear some sort of national uniform—perhaps designed by Ralph Lauren or Telfar—and a few will carry their country’s flag. Most of them will wear smiles so wide that their cheeks reach their ears, their eyes animated and ablaze. Others will cry—a physical manifestation of the overwhelming realisation that after decades of gruelling, unfathomable work, their Olympic dream has begun.
But no one will be there to watch them. Due to rising COVID-19 rates in Japan, the 2021 Olympic Games—already delayed a year by the pandemic—will now ban spectators from the grounds.
To borrow a theatre adage: the show must—and will—go on. Athletes have trained to reach prime physical shape during the international tournament, now mere weeks away. Then there’s the price tag: coronavirus has already driven the cost of the Olympics up by more than £2 billion. And sure, most of the world will watch the games as they’ve always done: on television. But what goes missing when the crowd does?